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BURMA RELATED NEWS – OCTOBER 29, 2010
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AP – Myanmar court hears Suu Kyi appeal over detention
AP – Lawyer ‘optimistic’ over Suu Kyi appeal
AP – UN chief: ‘Not too late’ for Myanmar elections
CSM – Cut out of Burma election, Kachin minority could turn guns on junta
CSM – In Burma’s rare elections, fresh faced candidates run against the grain
UPI – U.S. has doubts on Myanmar vote
Bloomberg – Clinton Calls on Myanmar to Change its Policies, Release Aung San Suu Kyi
AlertNet – Emergency update: Merlin responds to Cyclone Giri in Myanmar (Burma)
VOA News – Thai Clinic Aiding Burmese Refugees Low on Funds
VOV News – Deputy PM meets Myanmar’s FM
Asian Correspondent – Burma’s junta seeks the status quo through upcoming elections
Press Trust of India – UN rights chief slates Myanmar election
Asia News Network – Philippines’ Aquino urges Burma to free Suu Kyi now
The Nation – Asean and Burma must work to bridge expectation gap: Abhisit
EarthTimes – Mekong countries, Japan call for fair elections in Myanmar
TODAYonline – Asean,Myanmar lock horns on Suu Kyi
Monsters and Critics – Myanmar court postpones decision on Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal
Monsters and Critics – Malaysian police detain couple over alleged maid abuse
Voxy News – NZ To Tackle Myanmar Election
ReliefWeb – Open Letter to Asean Leaders at Asean
LiveScience – Headless Dragonfly, Footless Lizard: Grisly Scene Preserved
The Asian Age – Obama may raise Burma issue
TIME – Burma’s New Breed
IPS – Poll A Showdown between Dead Strongman and Living One
Mizzima News – Win Tin slates UN head’s rights report omissions
Mizzima News – Protesters target Air Bagan for boycott over junta links
DVB News – PM’s party claims 18m members
The Irrawaddy  – A Generation Later, Suu Kyi’s Popularity Continues to Grow
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Myanmar court hears Suu Kyi appeal over detention
Fri Oct 29, 2:21 am ET

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Lawyers for Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi made a final appeal to win her release from house arrest Friday, pressing forward despite her scheduled release in two weeks.

Before entering the special court in the remote capital of Naypyitaw, lawyers said that Suu Kyi’s acquittal by the five-judge panel “would be a good example that rule of law prevails in the country.”

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years but was never convicted of any crime until August 2009. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison for violating her house arrest by briefly sheltering an uninvited American who swam to her home.

The trial sparked global outrage and her conviction was widely viewed as designed to keep her detained through the country’s first election in two decades on Nov. 7.

Suu Kyi has already lost two appeals and lawyers are exercising their final legal option with the Special Appellate Bench.

“We are optimistic that Daw Aung San Suu KYi will be acquitted as she was not guilty,” lawyer Nyan Win said.

He said the court does not usually give its decision the same day but he could not rule out “unexpected events” since “Daw Suu’s case is a special case.”

But a quick ruling granting Suu Kyi an early release would appear unlikely, since court decisions almost invariably favor the government. Granting her freedom would appear to threaten the junta’s carefully crafted plans for an orderly election by putting the spotlight on her and her now-disbanded party’s boycott of the polls, which the party claims are unfair and undemocratic.

Suu Kyi’s 18-month house arrest is set to expire on Nov. 13, a week after the country’s election. There is widespread speculation the junta will release her after its expected win at the polls.

Suu Kyi’s lawyers have argued that her house arrest was unlawful since it was based on provisions of the 1974 constitution, which was abolished after a ruling military junta seized power in 1988, said Nyan Win.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. The elections of 1990 were swept by Suu Kyi’s party but the military refused to relinquish power.

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Lawyer ‘optimistic’ over Suu Kyi appeal
Fri Oct 29, 6:51 am ET

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – A lawyer for Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed hope Friday that she will win her appeal for release from house arrest, even though the country’s courts have a record of favoring the government in political cases.

“We are optimistic that (Suu Kyi) will be acquitted,” Kyi Win said after returning from the administrative capital of Naypyitaw, where her legal team presented its arguments to the Special Appellate Bench. The team is pressing her case even though she is scheduled to be released in two weeks.

Another of her lawyers, Nyan Win, said before presenting arguments to the three-judge panel that Suu Kyi’s acquittal “would be a good example that rule of law prevails in the country.”

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years but was never convicted of any crime until August 2009. She was sentenced to 18 months of detention for violating her house arrest by briefly sheltering an uninvited American who swam to her home.

The trial sparked global outrage and her conviction was widely viewed as designed to keep her detained through the country’s first elections in two decades on Nov. 7.

Suu Kyi has already lost two appeals and lawyers are exercising their final legal option with the Special Appellate Bench.

Kyi Win argued that Suu Kyi had not broken her house arrest rules and that her detention was illegal.

The lawyer said the court usually takes some time to give its decision but expected it to “treat Suu Kyi’s as a special case” and issue a ruling next week.

A quick ruling granting Suu Kyi an early release would appear unlikely, since the court almost invariably rules in favor of the government. Granting her freedom would appear to threaten the junta’s plans for an orderly election by putting the spotlight on her and her now-disbanded party’s boycott of the polls, which the party said are unfair and undemocratic.

Suu Kyi’s 18-month house arrest is set to expire Nov. 13, a week after the election, and there is widespread speculation the junta will release her after its expected victory.

Her lawyers have argued that her house arrest is unlawful since it is based on provisions of the 1974 constitution, which was abolished by the military in 1988, Nyan Win said.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. The last elections in 1990 were won by Suu Kyi’s party but the military refused to relinquish power.

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UN chief: ‘Not too late’ for Myanmar elections
By TRAN VAN MINH, Associated Press – Fri Oct 29, 6:24 am ET

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that there’s still time for Myanmar’s military rulers to make upcoming elections more credible by freeing all political prisoners.

“It’s not too late, even now,” Ban said on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam. “By releasing all political prisoners, Myanmar authorities could help or pave the way for a national reconciliation.”

Ban repeated his warning from a day earlier in an interview with The Associated Press in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, that keeping thousands of political prisoners locked up could destroy the vote’s credibility.

Myanmar’s military junta has been under increasing pressure to ensure the Nov. 7 elections — the country’s first in two decades — are free and fair. But many critics have dismissed the vote as a pre-rigged sham.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 2,000 political prisoners remain detained in the secretive state, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years. Several countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations have pressed the junta to release her during the meetings this week in Hanoi.

Ban said the period after the elections will be equally crucial.

“It’s a chance for the authorities to signal that they are open to real change and that they are ready to depart from an untenable status quo,” said Ban, who is to meet with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein on Saturday on the sidelines of the summit.

Ban said the United Nations stands ready to help Myanmar to move forward peacefully to a new era of democracy and development following five decades of military rule.

“We expect and hope that this election will be credible, inclusive and transparent,” he said.

Myanmar’s military rulers have enacted laws that prevent Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections. That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender in the elections.

Myanmar officials have refused to directly confirm whether Suu Kyi will be freed when her house arrest officially expires on Nov. 13, six days after the elections.

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The Christian Science Monitor – Cut out of Burma election, Kachin minority could turn guns on junta
By A correspondent – Fri Oct 29, 10:00 am ET

Myitkyina, Burma – When it comes to guerrilla warfare, the Kachin tribesmen of northern Burma (Myanmar) are past masters, and there are growing signs that Burma’s Nov. 7 election could result with them reaching for their guns again.

During World War II, US-backed Kachin Rangers terrorized Japanese occupiers and rescued downed Allied pilots. When Burmese independence soured for ethnic minorities, Kachin fighters turned their guns on government troops in these rugged mountains between China and India.

In recent years the Kachin have tried their hand at politics. They signed a ceasefire in 1994 with Burma’s military rulers and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has been gearing up for Burma’s election, the first in 20 years. But now some Kachin are beginning to regret their foray into politics.

Their hopes were dashed when the ruling junta removed pro-KIO politicians from the election ballot after the group refused to merge its armed wing, known as the KIA, with the national army. Now the KIA, which has an estimated 5,000-10,000 men, is busy recruiting and training, and residents are braced for renewed fighting.

“After the election process, we ethnic minorities can be crushed,” warns a Kachin church official. Most Kachin are devout Christians, a legacy of the American missionaries who came during British colonial rule.

Burma’s regime has been accused of committing war crimes against ethnic minorities opposed to its rule. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday in Honolulu that the US supported an international probe into human rights violations in Burma. Britain and Australia, among others, have said they would support a UN commission of inquiry that could pave the way for a trial.

Trouble north, and eastThe political tensions in Kachin state are echoed along Burma’s northern and eastern borders, where the military has tried to convert armed ethnic groups into border guards under central government control. Last year, Burmese troops overran an ethnic enclave and sent more than 30,000 refugees across the border with China, causing diplomatic tensions with Beijing, which fears instability on its flank. It has urged all parties to enter peace talks.

Analysts say China’s wrath may be a restraining factor against another all-out Burmese offensive. But Kachin leaders say they don’t see China as an honest broker in their conflict, given its growing appetite for Burma’s natural resources, including hydropower, timber, and gems from Kachin state. A giant dam is being built upriver from Myitkyina to supply power to southern China, displacing thousands of residents.

“The Chinese are opportunists, they play all sides,” says a clan elder and WWII veteran. He declined to be named, as did other community leaders. Most cited the fear of being singled out by military authorities as rebel supporters.

Tensions rose Oct. 18 when soldiers raided a KIA liaison office in a government-run town after a fatal landmine incident blamed by state media on KIA “insurgents.” A senior KIA general told the BBC Burmese service that the army was trying to provoke his forces. “We don’t think the situation will escalate too much. But if fighting erupts, we are all prepared,” said General Sumlut Gun Maw.

Strong center, rebellious regionsFor decades, Burma has been wracked by communist and ethnic-based rebellions. A series of ceasefires in the 1990s paved the way for political negotiations under a promised new constitution, though most minorities felt short-changed by the result. The 2008 constitution contains virtually none of the guarantees of minority rights that ethnic leaders had sought.

Despite their misgivings, KIO officials were keen to participate in the upcoming election for national and local parliaments. A new party was set up earlier this year and headed by a senior KIO leader. But Burma’s election commission refused to register this and two other smaller Kachin parties, and also quashed the nomination of 15 pro-KIO politicians as independent candidates. Some villages under KIO control will not be allowed to vote due to security concerns.

Instead, local voters must chose between the junta’s own party and an unpopular Kachin party that is widely derided as a regime proxy. Echoing widespread skepticism, the church official says he wouldn’t vote for either one. “They’re afraid of our (pro-KIO) party. It had begun its campaign and it was quite clear how people were going to vote,” he says.

Analysts say the junta made the conversion of KIA forces into border guards a condition of electoral participation. But KIO leaders argued that they needed these troops as leverage in future negotiations, putting the two sides on a collision course. A similar standoff has occurred in a border enclave run by Wa rebels that have sophisticated weaponry and involved in the heroin and methamphetamine trade.

Nawdin Lahpai, a Kachin exile who runs a news service in northern Thailand (www.kachinnews.com), says renewed fighting between the military and the KIA could erupt at any time, despite the disapproval of China. He said the handover of power to civilians wouldn’t end the deadlock. “The next government will not be interested in dialog with the Kachin or other ethnic groups,” he says.

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The Christian Science Monitor – In Burma’s rare elections, fresh faced candidates run against the grain
Burma (Myanmar) goes to the polls on Nov. 7, offering its citizens a rare chance to defy its military rulers. Some believe it’s nothing more than a show designed to legitimize another dictatorial regime.
By A Correspondent / October 28, 2010
Rangoon, Burma

Megaphone in hand, Yan Kyaw rounds the corner of another soot-blackened city block. Ahead of him, a gaggle of young volunteers in red T-shirts printed with their candidate’s symbol, a yellow lantern, pass out leaflets in shops and teashops. Others attach leaflets to the colored strings that dangle from apartment balconies, a combination of postbox and buzzer in a city starved of electricity.

Yan Kyaw, a lecturer running as an independent for parliament, speaks briefly into his megaphone, telling voters to cast their ballots freely and without fear. More faces peer over the balconies, and some begin to yank up their strings, eliciting smiles from the fresh-faced volunteers. “A good response today, very good,” says the aspiring lawmaker.

Burma (Myanmar) goes to the polls on Nov. 7, offering its citizens a rare chance to defy its military rulers. Some believe it’s nothing more than a show designed to legitimize another dictatorial regime. Western powers have heaped scorn on stifling restrictions that favor the junta’s political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), at the expense of the opposition.

The biggest battle

For Yan Kyaw and hundreds of other candidates running against the junta’s choices, the biggest battle is against a combination of apathy, skepticism, and deep divisions within the opposition. The result could be an even bigger than expected victory for the USDP, which is led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, a recently retired general, and is stuffed with junta allies.

Each party has been allotted time on state television and allowed to advertise in private newspapers. But most lack the resources and reach of the USDP, which relies on government spending to bolster its campaign. In rural areas, government intimidation is common, say observers. But in cities like Rangoon, the former capital, opponents have a freer hand to win over voters by going door to door.

Still, opposition politics remains fractious, and leaders spend as much time attacking each other as lambasting the government’s failings. The most vicious infighting is within the former ranks of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by imprisoned Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which has boycotted the vote, while a breakaway group has registered a new party to contest the election.

Effect of a boycott?

It’s unclear what impact the NLD’s boycott may have on turnout. As the election law doesn’t specify any minimum vote a low turnout is likely to reward the USDP and another conservative party, the National Unity Party (NUP), say analysts. The government has declined to invite international monitors or foreign media for the election, the first in 20 years.

The NLD’s refusal to take part has left a varied field of opposition parties and independents, as well as ethnic-based parties. But few have the clout to challenge the USDP or NUP. Of 37 registered parties, only four are contesting more than 10 percent of 1,163 seats in national and local legislatures. The remaining 25 percent of seats are reserved for military officers under a constitution passed by a referendum in 2008.

For every politician who wants to run against the regime, there are others who reject the election as a dead-end road. “I don’t believe in these elections because they won’t be free or fair,” says Phyo Min Thein, a former political prisoner who formed a new party in May but later quit in protest at the election rules. His party is contesting the poll without him.
Push for reform

Opposition candidates argue that even if they are in a minority in parliament, they can scrutinize government policy and push for reforms. Under the constitution, the government’s budget must be passed by parliament, marking a break from the opaque accounting of the current junta.

“The government favors the USDP, while it suppresses the other parties. But we want to contest. Participating in this election is an important step,” says Nay Myo Wai, general secretary of Peace and Diversity Party.

Critics lament the failure of opposition figures to agree on a common strategy. A six-party alliance recently fractured over allegations of improper funding by a pro-junta donor. The grouping was already beset by an overlap of candidates in many constituencies, petty rivalries, and other problems.

Yan Kyaw, the independent candidate, says the squabbling is a distraction. “We don’t want to fight the democrats, we want to fight the other guys. That’s the real way,” he says.
Voters are torn between hope and cynicism. “I think the [opposition parties] can change our lives… we need better roads and electricity,” says a young woman who runs a small store in Rangoon and intends to go to the polls.

A businessman living the same neighborhood said he didn’t plan to vote. “I don’t believe any of the parties. I don’t think they will make a difference. In the parliament, they will turn into yes-men,” he says.

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U.S. has doubts on Myanmar vote
Published: Oct. 29, 2010 at 1:36 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (UPI) — Washington is concerned about the transparency of Myanmar elections after authorities said an opposition leader might not be released, an official said.

Myanmar authorities disbanded 10 political parties, including Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, ahead of a general election in November. Military authorities said they might release the Nobel Peace Prize laureate but not in time for the November election.

P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said during his regular press briefing that the delay showed Myanmar wasn’t serious about a transparent election.

“Myanmar knows what it has to do,” he said. “It has to open up its political space for Aung San Suu Kyi and others to participate fully in the politics of Myanmar. It has to release its political prisoners — all of them.”

Myanmar hasn’t had a general election in two decades. Foreign ministry officials told U.N. members, however, that the elections were inclusive and would open the door for a civilian role in the government.

Members of the disbanded NLB called for a boycott of the November elections. Critics complain the military will still control seats in parliament, though observers say any role for civilians is a welcome measure.

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Bloomberg – Clinton Calls on Myanmar to Change its Policies, Release Aung San Suu Kyi
By Nicole Gaouette – Fri Oct 29 04:44:00 GMT 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Myanmar’s military leaders to change their policies and release Aung San Suu Kyi, the longtime political prisoner.

Clinton criticized planned Nov. 7 elections in Myanmar as “deeply flawed” and pointed to “ongoing human rights abuses inflicted by the military junta,” as an example of the many challenges that remain in Asia.

Clinton made the remarks yesterday during a policy speech in Hawaii that stressed the U.S. intention to maintain its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. The policy address marked the start of a two-week tour through Southeast Asia, including a stop in Vietnam, where she will attend the East Asian Summit.

“Burma will soon hold a deeply flawed election, and one thing we have learned over the last few years is that democracy is more than elections,” Clinton said, referring to the country by its former name. “We will make clear to Burma’s new leaders, old and new alike, that they must break from the policies of the past.”

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest for the better part of two decades. She leads the National League for Democracy, which won a landslide election in 1990. The junta barred the party from ever taking office and it was banned from taking part in next month’s voting.

“Her imprisonment must come to an end,” Clinton said.

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AlertNet – Emergency update: Merlin responds to Cyclone Giri in Myanmar (Burma)
29 Oct 2010 17:29:27 GMT
Source: Merlin – UK

Merlin has deployed an experienced water and sanitation team in Myebon Township in Myanmar (Burma), one of the areas worst-affected by Cyclone Giri.

The cyclone – a category four storm – struck Rakhine state in the west of the country on 22 October.

Within Myebon Township, as many of 90 per cent of homes in villages have been destroyed, and as many as 100,000 people have been left without shelter or possessions.
Dr Paul Sender, Merlin’s Country Director, says:

“The scale of destruction is immense. Merlin’s teams on the ground have seen entire villages flattened.”

Whilst local authorities were able to evacuate many people out of the path of the cyclone, and also have been quick to meet some of the needs of the population in its aftermath, a vast amount remains to be done over the coming weeks and months.

Merlin is particularly concerned that cyclone survivors will not have enough clean water to drink.

The cyclone destroyed communities’ water sources at the worst possible time: the end of the rainy season. Some villages now face up to seven months without a reliable source of clean water.

In the short term, Merlin is focusing on identifying ways of getting water to people in need.

In the longer term, it will be necessary to repair damaged ponds and other communal water sources.

Meeting the water and sanitation needs as well as all the other needs of cyclone survivors, including food and shelter, will be a costly and complex operation. If this is not undertaken, conditions within villages will worsen.

Merlin is calling upon international and individual donors to release funding for this emergency.

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VOA News – Thai Clinic Aiding Burmese Refugees Low on Funds
Ron Corben | Mae Sot, Thailand 28 October 2010

A clinic in Thailand that has served refugees from Burma for two decades is seeing increasing demand for its services.

It is another busy morning at the Mao Tao clinic in the northwestern Thai border town of Mae Sot. Newborns cry as mothers and friends offer support.

This clinic offers a range of services – immunizations, tuberculosis drugs, minor surgery, in-patient care. It even offers prosthetic limbs to refugees who have been victims of the landmines left from decades of ethnic conflict in Burma.

Dr. Cynthia Muang, one of thousands to flee Burma after the military’s 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy forces, set up the clinic 20 years ago.

It now treats more than 150,000 patients a year, and demand is rising as health services in eastern Burma deteriorate.

Half of the clinic’s patients cross over from Burma for treatment and then go home. The remainder are among the tens of thousands of Burmese citizens who work in Thailand, in factories or on farms.

Waiting outside the delivery room, Myint Myint Moe, 24, a farm worker in Thailand, prepares for the birth of her child.

Myint Myint says she is happy to come to the clinic because for migrant workers there is nowhere else to go. She says she is hoping for a girl.

Eh Poh, a midwife who advises women on ante-natal health, says the clinic’s role goes beyond delivering babies, to teaching women basic health care.

“When I arrived we had delivery already two to three women – normal delivery without complication, also one in labor now ready. We [also] give education to the women who already delivery; how to take care of the baby, breastfeeding. We have to give education like in nutrition. Sometime they believe that when they are pregnant they cannot eat like some vegetable,” Eh Poh explaines.

Last year, the clinic delivered almost 3,000 babies, and 9,000 new mothers received care.

Terry Smith is an American doctor at the clinic. He says Burma’s weak health care system means many of the women suffer from serious underlying illnesses.

“A very high incidence of malaria and malaria is bad for pregnancies. It causes fetal loss, miscarriages; it causes severe anemia which makes it very difficult for the women,” he said.  “The other problem is that a lot of women lose their pregnancies because of malnutrition, because of infection, because of poor family planning, and they have short child spacing, spontaneous miscarriages.”

Smith, who has worked in Latin America and South Asia, says the thousands of people internally displaced due to fighting in eastern Burma between the army and ethnic groups means health services are run down or non-existent.

“There is no good health system in Burma – at least in eastern Burma. The people that come here – there’s no public health, there’s no mosquito control, there’s no sanitation, there’s no clean water, there’s no hospitals, there’s nothing,” Smith says, “People have to fend for themselves and they depend upon getting help from other people.”

The clinic works in close partnership with Thai medical services, and sends patients to hospitals in the northern city of Chiang Mai for major surgery.

But the charity is struggling to meet growing needs. The global economic slowdown led donors to cut funding.

Eh Thwa, a spokeswoman for the clinic, says the growing demands and funding shortfalls place more pressure on the clinic. “Every year we see more patients. Also we have three main activities; we look after the sick patient, the second is [medical] trainee program for [people in] Burma or in the refugee camps; also child protection – we have a boarding house – a school,” Eh said.

Major surgery, such as those for congenital heart problems, taken for granted in the West, is beyond the reach of many Burmese who reach the clinic.

Families often sell their homes to pay for a child’s operation in Burma only to receive inadequate treatment. With no option left, families take the sometimes dangerous trip to Thailand so a child can receive care through the clinic.

The doctors at the clinic say there are fears that after Burma holds its first elections in 20 years, on November 7, the military government may crack down on rebellious ethnic groups or dissidents. That could send even more refugees across the border, and many of them will need medical care.

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Updated : 10:03 AM, 10/29/2010
VOV News – Deputy PM meets Myanmar’s FM

Deputy Prime Minister cum Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem met Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win in Hanoi on October 28 on the sidelines of the 17th ASEAN Summit and related meetings.

Deputy PM Khiem spoke highly of Vietnam-Myanmar traditional friendship and multifaceted cooperation, saying that bilateral ties are entering a new stage of development after Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to Myanmar in April this year.

He also congratulated Myanmar on its national reconciliation process and preparation for the upcoming general election on November 7, expressing hope that the election will be successful and Myanmar will complete its 7-step roadmap to democracy.

Myanmar’s FM spoke highly of Vietnam’s support for Myanmar’s general election, affirming that the Myanmar government will successfully organize the event.

The new government will learn from Vietnam’s experience in economic development, he said, adding that Myanmar invited Vietnamese enterprises to expand cooperation and investment to the country.

The two sides pledged to further strengthen bilateral ties in the future, especially in sharing development experiences and increasing two-way trade and investment.

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Asian Correspondent – Burma’s junta seeks the status quo through upcoming elections
Oct. 29 2010 – 07:38 pm
Zin Linn

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says there’s still time for Burma’s military rulers to make upcoming elections more credible by freeing all political prisoners, according to AP News.

“It’s not too late, even now,” Ban said on Friday on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam. “By releasing all political prisoners, Myanmar (Burma) authorities could help or pave the way for a national reconciliation.”

Anyhow, Burmese people are disappointed on hearing Mr. Ban’s assertion. The scenario of the junta-sponsored elections is too clear to see the truth. It is just a magic show to mislead the international community.It doesn’t deserved to honor at all.

If Mr. Ban as well as world leaders carefully observed the junta’s 2008 constitution, they can obviously find the real aim of the current military regime. The junta’s 7-step-roadmap will be fulfilled after this 7-November election. The real aim is that the military regime will restore the status quo.

As a matter of fact, the UN and the ASEAN must strike a chord of warning that they will not honor the 2010-election result of the Burma’s military regime as the procedures are totally unfair.

Burma is setting up for November 7 polls that critics have dismissed as a charade due to the exclusion of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The junta has announced that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi may be freed after November 7 elections, as it attempts to avoid a salvo of criticism over the discredited polls.

Junta’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win hinted the release at Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) talks. There were cautious responses to Nyan Win’s vague speech.

The regime has detained Suu Kyi for 15 of the past 21 years.  Yet the United States accused Burma of “craven manipulation” of its election.

“We were told that she will have completed her term of imprisonment by the first 10 days, probably, after the elections,” ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan told reporters on Thursday (28 Oct.). Nevertheless, average citizens do not believe the makeup news on Suu Kyi’s release because it seems a usual double-crossing trap by the junta.

Many critics are skeptical, saying the regime has made promises of release of Aung San Suu Kyi for reconciliation in the past without honoring them. The junta has often stated that it would respect democratic values, but has repeatedly refused to let its opponents participate freely in the political process.

Human rights groups estimate that around 2,200 political prisoners remain in custody in the junta’s dungeons, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Putting the oppositions in prison and banning the media of covering the elections, no one dare say these elections are free, fair and inclusive.

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Press Trust of India – UN rights chief slates Myanmar election

Geneva, Oct 29 (AFP) UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said today that Myanmar had failed so far to meet international standards for “genuine elections”, ten days ahead of the poll.

“On 7 November Myanmar’s electoral process will culminate in voting and counting at polling stations around most of the country,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

“However, conditions for genuine elections that meet international standards have so far not been reached,” she added.

Pillay reiterated calls by the United Nations for the release more than 2,000 political prisoners, and for the military junta to respected freedom of assembly and expression.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today that it was not too late for a “credible, democratic” transition, ahead of the much-criticised November 7 election.

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Asia News Network – Philippines’ Aquino urges Burma to free Suu Kyi now
Leila B. Salaverria – Philippine Daily Inquirer
Publication Date : 29-10-2010

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III Thursday (October 28) pushed for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi but expressed disappointment that Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein did not give a commitment during their bilateral talks that the Burmese democracy icon would be freed any time soon.

Aquino told Thein Sein the Philippines was joining calls from the international community for the immediate release of Suu Kyi, according to presidential communications group Secretary Ricky Carandang.

Thein Sein’s reply contained no clear commitment, only saying the legal processes of Burma (Myanmar) would be followed, Carandang said.

“It is disappointing not just for the Philippines, I think, but for many of the Asean neighbours, many people in the international community,” Carandang told reporters.

“They would’ve viewed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as a clear indication that the government of Myanmar was serious in taking steps on its roadmap to democracy. The lack of commitment on that was disappointing to the President.”

Philippine experience

Carandang also said Aquino offered to share with Burma the Philippines’ experiences in transitioning to democracy, citing Filipinos’ peaceful moves to a democratic government.

In response, Thein Sein said his country had set up an election commission to oversee the forthcoming polls in that country and that many different parties and ethnic groups were participating. He expressed confidence that the elections would be free and fair.

Carandang said Thein Sein also said Burma was willing to accept observers to its elections. The Philippines has not decided whether to send observers.

Asked what else the Philippines could do to push for Suu Kyi’s release, Carandang said it would be difficult to force Burma to take concrete steps toward democracy. He noted while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has a charter, its enforcement has been weak.

What could be done is to talk to them to do what is right, he added.

A sham

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told The Associated Press that even though dissidents would not be able to participate in the November 7 elections, their release would at least create a “perception that this election will be more inclusive.”

Burma’s military rulers have enacted laws that prevent Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections. That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender to win the elections, which have been slammed by critics as a pre-rigged sham.

“Without releasing all political prisoners, then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility,” Ban said in the exclusive interview in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

He gave the interview before flying to Ha Noi where he will meet with Gen. Thein Sein on the sidelines of the annual Asean summit. Although Thein Sein represents his country at international events, he takes his orders from junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

For the first time, the reclusive government confirmed that Than Shwe would not be participating in the national polls, according to diplomats at the Hanoi conference, though it remains unclear what role he may have after the elections.

‘He’ll be president’

Philippine foreign secretary Alberto Romulo said Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win told his counterparts during an informal dinner on Wednesday that Than Shwe would not be on the ballot.

Than Shwe is widely expected to have some new role and title after elections. Many think he could become the next president, which is not an elected position.

“You know the system they have. He will be elected president, I’m almost sure,” Romulo said.

Makeover

The military junta, which has been in control of Burma for the past five decades, worked to put a fresh face on the oppressive country at the Hanoi meeting, unveiling a redesigned flag and new national name—going from “Union of Myanmar” to “Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

Many observers fear the makeover is merely a facade to mask the shortcomings of the long-awaited election.

The junta has billed the polling as a big move forward in the country’s so-called roadmap to democracy. Critics say the junta has taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the main opposition party and limiting campaigning.

Burmese officials refused to directly confirm whether Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years, would be released from her house arrest when her detention expires on November 13.

Uncertain fate

Romulo said Suu Kyi’s fate remained uncertain. During the Wednesday dinner, Nyan Win simply asserted that the country would follow its laws.

“We all pressed him to release Aung San Suu Kyi, but he was noncommittal,” Romulo said, adding that he told Nyan Win he was unconvinced she would be released at all.

“I am skeptical about that,” Romulo said he told Nyan Win. “She has been sentenced and after that she is resentenced again with another, so there’s no end to it.”

Suu Kyi’s party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic after it won a landslide victory in 1990 that was dismissed by the military leaders. Other world leaders also are expected to prod Burma during the Asean meeting.

Territorial spats

China also is expected to dominate discussions following a number of territorial spats on the high seas.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, but parts of it are also claimed by several of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Heads of state from the Asean countries – Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam – along with leaders from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States are attending the summit.

Talks between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan are in doubt after the two nations became embroiled in their worst diplomatic row in years, centered on a disputed East China Sea island chain.

A meeting scheduled for Friday (October 29) between the economic ministers of Japan, China and South Korea has already been canceled, casting further doubt on the two-way talks between Asia’s biggest powers.

The summit is also expected to sound the alarm over the “currency war” that has sent exchange rates and share prices rocketing in the region’s emerging economies.

While China has kept a tight grip on the yuan, Japan and emerging Asian economies have seen their currencies soar against the US dollar, making their exports less competitive and inviting a massive inflow of foreign capital. With reports from wire agencies

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The Nation – Asean and Burma must work to bridge expectation gap: Abhisit
Published on October 30, 2010

Hanoi � Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Friday that Asean and Burma must work together to narrow the gap of expectation within the international community concerning the scheduled election in Burma next month.

He said that an election is a first step in democratic development. Thailand, he added, looked beyond the election scheduled on 7 November, which was condemned world-wide.

Abhisit’s comment was in line with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who said that Burma’s election is suffering from the creditability deficit. He also pointed out that Indonesia also looks beyond the election to issues related to national reconcilliation and dialogue.

The strongest view came from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. He said that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released and the election next month is not free, fair or inclusive.

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EarthTimes – Mekong countries, Japan call for fair elections in Myanmar
Posted : Fri, 29 Oct 2010 10:38:11 GMT

Hanoi – Japan and the five South-East Asian countries on the Mekong River issued a joint statement Friday calling for free and fair elections in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s membership in the Mekong group – which also consists of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – indicated that the call for fair voting was not intended as criticism of the actual preparations by the ruling military junta for the November 7 general elections, the first in 20 years.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also urged Myanmar to make the elections “more inclusive and participatory” by releasing all political prisoners. “It’s not too late, even now,” Ban said.

“ASEAN and the United Nations agree on the need for a credible democratic transition and national reconciliation in Myanmar,” he said, referring to the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“We expect and hope that the elections will be credible, inclusive and transparent,” he added.

The Mekong summit, which met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Hanoi, concentrated on economic agreements for developing the Mekong region.

It also called for the Korean Peninsula to become a nuclear-free zone.

An action plan issued by the group called for Japanese economic aid and technical help to develop transportation and energy resources in the Mekong River region while protecting its environment.

At the first Mekong-Japan summit last year, Japan’s government pledged 500 billion yen (5.6 billion dollars) in fresh aid to the region. The pledge was seen as a response to growing Chinese influence in South-East Asia.

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TODAYonline – Asean,Myanmar lock horns on Suu Kyi
05:55 AM Oct 29, 2010

HANOI – Top diplomats from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) yesterday confronted Myanmar by demanding that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi be freed before the country’s elections next month, while the United Nations chief warned that keeping thousands of political prisoners locked up could destroy the vote’s credibility.

Myanmar officials refused to directly confirm whether Ms Suu Kyi would be released from house arrest when her detention expires on Nov 13.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III pressed for Ms Suu Kyi’s immediate release during a meeting yesterday with Myanmar’s Prime Minister, General Thein Sein. “There was no commitment and the President, I would say, was disappointed at the lack of response,” said presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang. But Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Myanmar also did not contest that her detention ends just after the Nov 7 elections, suggesting that perhaps she may be freed.

“Our understanding is that the term of her sentence will be expiring in November,” he said. “And that understanding was not disputed.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic. It won a landslide victory in the country’s last elections in 1990 but the military government refused to accept those results. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that, by freeing its jailed dissidents, Myanmar could create a “perception that this election will be more inclusive”.

“Now at this time I would strongly urge the Myanmar authorities that it is not too late – even at this time – to release all political prisoners so that the Nov 7 elections could be more inclusive and more participatory and credible,” he told the AP in an interview in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, before flying to Hanoi where he was to meet General Thein Sein on the sidelines of the Asean summit.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is pushing fellow Asean members to adopt a common currency stance ahead of next month’s Group of 20 summit, to aid progress on a broader policy initiative. “We have encouraged Asean to develop a common perspective on the currency situation,” Mr Natalegawa told reporters. “We must ensure that there are no inadvertent imbalances caused by efforts by some countries to protect export industries by artificially maintaining currencies at an exceptionally low level.”

Asean will send a representative to the meeting of G-20 leaders in Seoul, where leaders will discuss a plan to avoid “competitive devaluations” among members.

China’s restraint of the yuan and the falling US dollar has prompted countries such as South Korea, Brazil and Thailand to take steps to weaken their currencies to boost competitiveness. Some countries are considering new measures after G-20 finance chiefs meeting in South Korea agreed last week to refrain from weakening currencies to boost exports.

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Monsters and Critics – Myanmar court postpones decision on Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal
Oct 29, 2010, 11:04 GMT

Yangon – Myanmar’s Supreme Court said Friday that it would decide ‘soon’ on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal against an 18-month house detention sentence which is set to keep her out of the way during the country’s general election on November 7.

‘The court said that they will decide on her case soon,’ said Nyan Win, one of three lawyers representing Suu Kyi at the Supreme Court in Naypyitaw, 350 kilometres north of Yangon.

In Hanoi, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar’s junta to release all political prisoners before the polls to add credibility to an election process that has been widely criticized as a sham.

‘It is not too late, even now,’ Ban said. ‘The Myanmar authorities can make the elections more inclusive and participatory by releasing all political prisoners.’

Ban was in Hanoi to attend a summit between the UN and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.

‘ASEAN and the United Nations agree on the need for a credible democratic transition and national reconciliation in Myanmar,’ Ban said.

Suu Kyi, 65, is serving an 18-month house arrest that is due to expire on November 13, a week after the country holds its first polls in 20 years.

Her exclusion, along with her National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party, from the polls has lessened the election’s credibility in the eyes of the UN and most western democracies.

Although Suu Kyi was also under house arrest during the last general election on in May 1990, the NLD party won 392 of the 447 contested seats, to the surprise of Myanmar’s generals.

The ruling junta is accused of rigging the polls this time round to assure the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party wins.

On August 11, 2009, a special prison court sentenced the 1991 Noebel Peace Prize winner to 18 months under house arrest for breaking the conditions of her previous detention term.

Suu Kyi had earlier appealed the sentence at two lower courts, which upheld the verdict, before taking it to the Supreme Court.

Myanmar, also called Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. Its judiciary has a long record of bowing to military demands on controversial cases.

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Monsters and Critics – Malaysian police detain couple over alleged maid abuse
Oct 29, 2010, 8:30 GMT

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia police have detained a man and his pregnant wife for allegedly assaulting their maid with a golf club and scalding her with boiling water, a newspaper reported Friday.

The 37-year-old bank officer and his 34-year-old wife were picked up Tuesday from their home in the central state of Selangor after a hospital checkup of their Myanmar maid revealed signs of abuse, the New Straits Times said, citing police and doctors.

Khuon Mun, 27, on Monday sent a text message to a Myanmar friend asking for help and saying she couldn’t bear the beatings, the report said. Her friend then alerted police, who picked the maid up late Monday to be sent to hospital.

Khuon Mun, who arrived in Malaysia two months ago, said she was beaten and assaulted on a daily basis, mostly by her female employer, who was four months pregnant.

The couple, who were released Thursday on bail, were expected to be charged with abuse and, if found guilty, stand to face three years in jail.

Malaysia is home to more than 320,000 foreign domestic workers, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines but with a growing number from Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Rights groups say the maids lack protection under labour laws and claim that every year, hundreds of maids lodge complaints against their employers, ranging from physical abuse to nonpayment of salaries.

Cases of maid abuse are common, prompting Indonesia last June to ban its maids from being sent to the country until legislation is passed to protect its workers.

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Voxy News – NZ To Tackle Myanmar Election
Friday, 29 October, 2010 – 17:08
By Kate Chapman of NZPA

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Oct 29 NZPA – New Zealand will raise its concerns about the fairness of Myanmar’s first election in two decades when Prime Minister John Key attends the East Asian Summit in Vietnam tomorrow.

Myanmar is set to hold its first elections in 20 years next week, but Mr Key said elections where the main opposition leader — Aung San Suu Kyi — was under house arrest failed the test for democracy.

While the holding of elections was a tiny step in the right direction it was not enough to satisfy New Zealand, he said.

“New Zealand’s spelt out its position quite clearly and we’ll continue to reiterate that over the next day or so.”

He said he would raise the issue with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and possibly with Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein.

“We’re more than likely to be sitting next to (him)…. for alphabetical reasons we may have a bit of time to chat with them about it.”

The human rights record of host country Vietnam could also come up.

“New Zealand doesn’t support Vietnam’s human rights record, nor do we sanction and condone everything that we see that takes place in China,” Mr Key said.

“What we do do is use diplomatic ties to raise those issues and seek progress and change.”

The only other option was to take an isolated approach which would not achieve anything, he said.

Other issues likely to cause tension at the EAS are China’s and Japan’s conflicting ownership claims for the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea and security problems posed by
North Korea.

Mr Key will also discuss New Zealand’s bid for a place on the UN Security Council in 2015, climate change and Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s work in the Middle East with Mr Ban when they have a formal meeting tonight.

Sir Geoffrey is leading a UN investigation into the raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.

Mr Ban will also be invited to the Pacific Islands Forum to be held in Auckland next year. If he accepts he will be the first UN secretary-general to attend.

The two might discuss rumours that former prime minister Helen Clark will stand for the top UN job when Mr Ban’s first term ends next year, but Mr Key said today Ms Clark had not raised the issue with him and Mr Ban was still in his first term of what is generally a two-term appointment.

In his first bilateral meeting with his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard since her election win, Mr Key will discuss a regional processing centre for asylum seekers.

Mr Key has said he supports the idea although New Zealand does not want to house, nor pay for, the facility.

New Zealand takes 750 refugees a year under the United Nations programme. Some of them could come from the proposed regional processing centre but the total would not be increased, Mr Key said.

The risk was that taking refugees from the centre could unintentionally promote people smuggling.

“That’s the deeply worrying issue… we don’t want to send the wrong signals that somehow we are going to let you jump the queue.”

Mr Key is also likely to have an informal chat with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a dinner both are attending tonight.

“I guess it will be the start of a number of days of discussions with the Secretary of State, obviously she’s down in New Zealand next week.”

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ReliefWeb – Open Letter to Asean Leaders at Asean (28-30 OCTOBER 2010, HA NOI)
FROM AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S ASIA-PACIFIC DIRECTORS
Source: Amnesty International (AI)
Date: 28 Oct 2010

Full_Report (pdf* format – 54.5 Kbytes)(http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/KHII-8AP5NK/$File/full_report.pdf)

Your Excellencies,

As you meet in Ha Noi for the ASEAN Summit, we would like to take this opportunity to express our concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar.

As you know, on 7 November Myanmar will hold elections for the first time in two decades. Many governments in the Asia-Pacific region have emphasized the importance for the elections to be held in a “free, fair and inclusive manner”. However, the Myanmar government has yet to take any steps to improve its poor human rights record which could make this call a reality. In fact, in preparation for the elections it has done the opposite. Under a new Constitution, perpetrators of human rights violations are granted impunity, and restrictions on human rights have been tightened. Failure to address both past and present violations may prove critical for the future realization of peoples’ rights in Myanmar and the international credibility of its neighbours. As such it is crucial that you take this opportunity to send a clear message to the Government of Myanmar to take prompt action to address this terrible situation.

Despite repeated international calls for their release, more than 2,200 political prisoners continue to languish behind bars in Myanmar. This is double the number since the start of the mass peaceful antigovernment protests of August – September 2007, a grim reminder of the government’s zero tolerance of legitimate forms of peaceful political dissent. Political prisoners are further excluded from taking part in the elections by Electoral Laws enacted in March, barring them from participation. These laws and other broadly-worded regulations effectively deny the people of Myanmar the “three freedoms”, that is, the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. It is therefore simply not enough for governments to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. Human rights, including the “three freedoms”, must be safeguarded for all, whether people choose to participate in the elections or boycott them.

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LiveScience – Headless Dragonfly, Footless Lizard: Grisly Scene Preserved
By LiveScience Staff
posted: 27 October 2010 10:15 am ET

One hundred million years ago in what is now Myanmar, a lizard snapped off a dragonfly’s head and tried to dash away. Unfortunately, the reptile didn’t escape with its snack: Both creatures were trapped in sticky tree resin, leaving behind a grisly fossilized scene.

The find, reported in the 2010 issue of the journal Palaeodiversity, is the oldest example of a dragonfly preserved in amber, or fossilized tree resin. But what makes the find really interesting is the snapshot of ancient life that looks familiar today, said George Poinar, an entomologist and emeritus professor at Oregon State University.

Next to the decapitated dragonfly are the foot and tail of a small lizard, presumably the creature that beheaded the insect. Both became trapped in the resin and died in the middle of their duel, Poinar said in a statement.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have the entire specimen of the lizard,” he said, “because it probably had the dragonfly’s head in its mouth.”

Fossilized dragonflies preserved in stone date back 300 million years, but the specimen from Burma (now Myanmar), which is between 97 million and 110 million years old, is the oldest known specimen preserved in amber. Like modern dragonflies, the Burma specimen was a predator, feeding on larvae and other insects. And like today’s dragonflies, the ancient insect had to watch out for predators of its own. Beside lizards, young and hatchling dinosaurs probably ate dragonflies, Poinar said.

“Dragonflies are still eaten by small lizards every day. It’s a routine predator-prey interaction,” Poinar said. “This shows once again how behaviors of various life forms are retained over vast amounts of time.”

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The Asian Age – Obama may raise Burma issue
Oct 30th, 2010 |

New Delhi, Oct. 29: Democracy, or the lack of it, in Burma may wade into Barack Obama’s address to the joint session of Parliament on November 8, the day after the Burmese military junta would have conducted an election which has been dismissed as a sham by the international community. Any adverse comment about Burma by a foreign dignitary visiting India is likely to disturb New Delhi, which has sought to deepen its ties with the junta. But the pro-democratic Burmese exiles living in India and around the world would be particularly keen to hear what Mr Obama, the winner of Nobel peace prize for 2009, will have to say about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, who, like Mr Obama, was conferred the Nobel peace prize in 1991.

Already, the White House has indicated that the issue might figure during Mr Obama’s swing through Asia. Speaking to journalists in Washington, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said, “… if the election does not meet the kinds of standards that we would like to see it meet [and] every indication is that it won’t, I’m sure it will be something that will come up in the course of the trip.”

Mr Rhodes referred to Mr Obama’s tour of four Asian democracies on this trip — India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan — to suggest that the Obama administration wants “to underscore the success of democracy in Asia and around the world and we’re going to speak specifically to human rights and democracy-related issues in India and at every stop essentially of this trip.”

Speaking at the same news conference as Mr Rhodes, US under secretary of state for political affairs William Burns said: “… everything we’ve seen so far casts pretty serious doubts on whether this is going to be a free and fair election.

“And we’ve made very clear the US position that you’re not going to have free and fair elections unless you have the some 2,100 political prisoners released in Burma, and that obviously includes Aung San Suu Kyi.”

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TIME – Burma’s New Breed
By Hannah Beech / Rangoon Monday, Nov. 08, 2010

MC J-Me is in the house. More specifically, he is in a house of worship — crumbling St. Theresa Catholic Church in downtown Rangoon — bleary-eyed and recovering from a late night. As the 25-year-old rapper spins rhymes in English about his ambitions (“I’m gonna put Burma on the map/ With a girl on my lap”) an elderly nun strolls by. “Good morning, sister,” the churchgoing J-Me says, bowing his head like any other young Burmese who knows how to respect authority while gently subverting it at the same time. Bells toll as he describes how to “play it tight on the mike” in one of the world’s most cloistered countries — that is, how to slip allusions to drugs or politics or sex past Burma’s notorious but often clueless censors. “I ain’t saying I’m doing it,” he cautions. “I’m just saying if a brother wanted to do it, he could play it on four, five, six levels, and the censors wouldn’t know nothing about what’s flying above their heads.”

Cut off from much of the world by a repressive junta that has ruled for nearly five decades, and further isolated by international sanctions against the regime, Burma (officially renamed Myanmar by the ruling generals) might feel like the last frontier of hip-hop. But to sample J-Me, “Burma is back in da house, yo.” The hackneyed argot of Western rap may sound tired to more worldly ears, but in Burma it is a startling clarion call. Responding to it is a generation of urban Burmese youth that is finding new ways to express itself — and hopefully change Burmese society in the process. Conditioned to view politics as a dirty and dangerous word, young people are flocking to rock and hip-hop concerts in order to “say what we feel in a way that old people in the government don’t get,” as one fan, Yadana, describes it. Contemporary galleries, too, are filled with art that subtly — and not so subtly — critiques the military regime. Even community theater groups are getting in on the act, sneaking references to Burma’s HIV-AIDS crisis and explosive ethnic tensions into their traveling performances. The world may shake an anguished head over pictures of bloodied monks and the silent suffering of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but few outside Burma are aware of such significant shifts in its youth culture. In a country where one-third of the population is believed to be 15 to 24 years of age, these cautious appeals for change could be truly transformational. (See pictures of the two Burmas. http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2004257,00.html )

It isn’t just artsy types who are driving the youthful revolution. A local NGO network came of age after Cyclone Nargis killed some 130,000 Burmese in 2008 and exposed the government’s inability to care for its own people. This so-called third-force, which is neither the government nor the beleaguered political opposition, allows youngsters to directly aid the third of the nation that lives under the poverty line. Given that Burmese universities have banned nearly all humanities courses, lest students use what they might learn in political-science or philosophy lectures to advance agendas other than those laid down by the military regime, the rise of an NGO sector is something of a watershed.
Through their varied channels, whether it’s performing a rap anthem or kick-starting an environmental campaign, Burmese youth are striving to alleviate the misery of life in a country where pirated DVDs of The West Wing serve as political guidance and Prison Break is viewed as a reality show. “Hollywood usually has happy endings,” observes Thila Min, a 33-year-old former political prisoner and playwright. “We have to write our own.”

It is safe to say that the happy ending young Burmese seek will not come at the voting booth. Nationwide elections are scheduled for Nov. 7, the first since the 1990 polls that the regime lost badly and duly ignored. Most of the population knows that the elections will be neither free nor fair. The military has reserved top leadership posts and a quarter of parliament for itself. Voter intimidation or bribery, particularly in rural areas, will likely hand the army’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party a fair chunk of the ballots, while another junta-associated party, the National Unity Party, may also lure votes away from a disparate political opposition that is contesting less than half of the legislative seats. (See pictures of the race for Burma’s natural resources. http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1902296,00.html )

The junta has spent the past two decades consolidating its power, having violently crushed various democracy movements, including the 1988 student-guided protests and the peaceful monk-led demonstrations three years ago. Meanwhile, the party that won a landslide electoral victory in 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been weakened by, among other things, the imprisonment of its top leaders. Suu Kyi, who should have become Prime Minister 20 years ago, will see her latest stint of house arrest expire just days after the forthcoming elections. Loath to contest polls in which its revered chief could not take part, the NLD has decided to boycott them.

Dozens of other opposition parties are taking part, however, most notably various ethnic blocs and a breakaway NLD faction called the National Democratic Force that includes a number of young members. The reason is plain: for many Burmese youth, a flawed poll is preferable to stasis. “For 20 years, we have not moved forward,” says Moe Moe Yu, a 24-year-old civil-society activist in Rangoon. “These elections won’t build democracy tomorrow. But people are expecting change to come, maybe in 10 years or so, and for young people like me, this gives us hope.” (Read “Burma: Should Opposition Parties Boycott the Election?” http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2017769,00.html )

The looming elections have also created a climate of debate into which young people are tentatively venturing. On the streets of Rangoon, barely a palm frond sways in the tropical torpor; there is none of the energy of a normal campaign season — few flyers, even fewer posters. (In the days leading up to the polls, Burma’s Internet service was also interrupted, presumably to keep the country’s citizens further in the dark.) But while they may not be busy campaigning, young Burmese are scrutinizing the government’s failings in areas like education and health care, and acknowledging the futility of waiting for official redress. “I was working at a hospital and saw so many people die because there was no basic health care,” says Thei Su San, a 24-year-old medical graduate. “I wondered, Why doesn’t the government take care of them? But saying bad things about the government doesn’t do anything. We as part of society have to move things forward ourselves. That’s our responsibility.”

Lessons in Change At the Myanmar egress conversation Club in central Rangoon, young English-language students are dissecting the chorus of the Black Eyed Peas song “Where Is the Love?” (“People killing, people dying/ Children hurting, you hear them crying/ Can you practice what you preach/ And would you turn the other cheek?”). In a country where the most innocuous phrase can take on a dangerous political overtone, I wonder what the students make of the lyrics and chat after class with a 20-year-old woman wearing tight jeans and black nail polish. She gives me a knowing look and talks about the government and the people and the “social contract” that supposedly binds them. She recently learned the phrase in another class she attends. (In Burma, English classes are often the easiest places to sneak in political lessons.) “In other countries,” she says, “governments do things for their people. Here …” She trails off and shakes her head.

Since its inception four years ago, Myanmar Egress has served as an incubator for a new generation of young activists. The educational NGO, whose founders include businessmen with close relations to members of the regime, is controversial. Members of the influential exile community view Myanmar Egress as the democratic fig leaf of a junta creating an illusion of tolerance. Certainly, its teachers preach the virtues of an election that many dissidents want boycotted. “The military is getting stronger and stronger. Our only alternative is the elections,” says instructor Kyaw Win, who has translated books on globalization into Burmese.

Still, there is no questioning the idealism of the thousands of young students who have tromped up Myanmar Egress’s worn stairs to study “Quick Fix Political Leadership/Civil Education Training” or “The Art of Blogging” — topics suspiciously similar to those that the junta has tried to keep out of its universities. “In high school, we learned nothing about real Myanmar history, there was no information about politics,” says Su San Win, a 16-year-old student from Mandalay. “Now I know what a constitution is and what civil society is.” (See pictures of Burma’s discontent. http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1676563,00.html )

The advent of that society is the goal not only of the few dozen local NGOs that officially exist in Burma, but the hundreds more that toil under the radar. Young people, particularly those trained at Myanmar Egress, are at the forefront of this boom in activism. In Rangoon, I met young women committed to mangrove reforestation and young men who give free acupuncture to the poor. Given the role of civil society in overthrowing authoritarian regimes in places like Eastern Europe, the official latitude given to such groups seems surprising, and the NGOs are constantly trying to figure out where the lines are drawn. “Sometimes we are so excited that we can do something to help that we overstep,” says the 20-something director of a health NGO. “Maybe it’s the enthusiasm of being young.”

The fact is that the regime, which goes by the Orwellian name of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has so neglected its responsibility to care for its people that it must allow domestic NGOs to operate, if only to quell popular discontent. Right after Cyclone Nargis, most international assistance was blocked for fear that Western notions of democracy would flow in along with emergency aid. Thousands of young Burmese spontaneously filled the gap, ferrying supplies to the ravaged Irrawaddy delta. Doctors fresh out of medical school rushed out to treat trauma victims. “I think, for young people, this was a real defining moment,” says a European diplomat in Rangoon. “For the first time, they could see that what they were doing was making a real difference, and the government was letting them do it.”

Testing the limits in a country with 2,100 political prisoners might seem foolhardy. A year ago, a crackdown on journalists, activists and aid workers, including some who had helped in the Nargis effort, resulted in dozens of arrests. But the spirit of youthful volunteerism is undeterred and today extends beyond disaster relief. Take education. Because of student protests in the 1980s and 1990s, the government closed most universities for years at a time. Primary and secondary schools remained in session, but dropout rates are high. Only around 1% of the national budget is spent on education, one of the lowest investments in the world. In the mid-’90s, the SPDC’s Buddhist spy chief Khin Nyunt tried to alleviate the situation — and perhaps burnish his karma — by funding monastic schools that took in students too poor to afford public-school tuition. But when he was deposed in a power struggle in 2004, money for temple academies dried up. Today, private donations and young unpaid teachers help keep those schools afloat. (Read “Burmese Exiles Find Refuge in Thailand — But for How Long?” http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2026552,00.html )

Each Sunday, volunteers from Gita Meit, a Rangoon music school and community center, travel to Hlaing Tharyar monastery school, near the Irrawaddy delta, to teach music, art, theater and English. One rainy afternoon, a young volunteer gathered the kids together to write a play. “Think of your characters and the plot,” he urged. “You have the freedom to express yourselves and decide how their lives will go.” Unused to articulating their imaginations, the students at first squirmed and stared into space. But soon, blunt pencils began scratching on paper.

The Art of Protest Her body shrink-wrapped in plastic, a suffocated woman cradles her head in despairing arms. The title of Ma Ei’s photo-art series is Woman for Sale, and her exhibition is not exactly an understated critique of Burma’s male-oriented society. As always, a posse of officials had evaluated the show — a group that included inspectors from the Home Affairs Ministry, Special Branch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the police and the Ministry of Culture — but the 32-year-old artist convinced them that her work was an expression of traditional femininity and Buddhist values. “They always look the art up and down, up and down,” says one of her peers, mocking the censors’ gaping expressions. “They are ignorant, so you play on that by saying, ‘Oh, of course you understand what this means, Mr. SPDC. It’s about love and our good feelings for our country, Myanmar.’ And they say, ‘Of course, yes, that’s what it is about.'”

The officials won’t always be placated. One 23-year-old installation-and-video artist withdrew from a group exhibition last month because the authorities objected to the depiction of severed female dolls’ heads in her video piece, presumably taking them as a reference to Suu Kyi. (The artist disputes that interpretation). And yet she remains defiantly optimistic. “In Myanmar, the art world is an easier place to express political ideas,” she says. “You don’t have to explain. You just show it and people can see what they want.” The contemporary-art scene is even thriving, with new galleries opening up and young painters secretly gathering to show off samizdat work or slipping political references into their publicly exhibited art.

The hip-hop world, too, refuses to be cowed by persecution. Although J-Me jokes about spinning rhymes with multiple meanings, a member of Burma’s first hip-hop band ACID is now languishing in prison. He was accused of being a leader of Generation Wave, a secret collective of antigovernment hip-hoppers and activists. But despite this, other rap stars have managed to release underground albums that celebrate democracy and support the regime’s nemesis, Suu Kyi, “the lady on the lake” (so called because she is serving out her house arrest in a decaying villa on a Rangoon lakeshore). “You can choose how to fight, with words, or with art or with music,” says one rapper. “It doesn’t matter what weapons you use. What matters is that you fight strongly and bravely.” But as an entire generation of Burmese youth is now discovering, it also matters that you fight with subtlety and intelligence, choosing the battles that you can win.

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Poll A Showdown between Dead Strongman and Living One
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Oct 29, 2010 (IPS) – The ghost of military-ruled Burma’s first strongman, Gen Ne Win, has returned to haunt the South-east Asian nation’s current junta leader, Senior Gen Than Shwe, as the country heads for its first general election in two decades on Nov. 7.

In a bizarre twist, the candidates loyal to the late Ne Win, who ruled Burma with an iron fist from a 1962 coup till 1988, are being cast in some quarters as a welcome force for expanding the very restricted political space in place since the early 1990s, when Than Shwe came to power.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), backed by Than Shwe, has nominated over 1,100 candidates for elections to the national and regional parliaments.

The National Unity Party (NUP), supported by Ne Win loyalists who lost political favours and power after Than Shwe became the junta leader, has nominated 999 candidates to contest for seats in the national and regional bodies.

These two political behemoths, both with ties with the junta leaders in Burma, have dwarfed the political parties with more credible democratic credentials, such as the National Democratic Force (NDF), the Democratic Party of Myanmar (DPM) and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDF).

The NDF has 163 candidates running, while the DPM has 48 and the SNLD 156.

Little wonder why the Nov. 7 polling day is being described by political observers in Mandalay and Rangoon, the country’s two largest cities, as a looming showdown between the loyalists of the two strongmen.

The NUP is in fact openly challenging the USDP on the campaign trail, these observers told IPS. “The NUP is trying to draw a distinction between themselves and the current military government,” said one Rangoon-based analyst. “Just recently they told voters that they are not ‘political monsters’ and have learnt from their past mistakes.”

“Some of their policies have even struck a chord amongst sections of the middle class who want change,” he added. “They are providing an avenue for change within restricted boundaries.”

The NUP’s emergence as the only formidable challenger to the ruling junta’s party has not been lost on the Burmese media in exile, which have, till now, been trenchant critics of the Ne Win and Than Shwe regimes.

“The National Unity Party could upset the ruling regime’s plans for an overwhelming victory by the Union Solidarity and Development Party,” wrote ‘The Irrawaddy’, a current affairs website run by Burmese journalists in exile in Thailand. “(The NUP leader’s recent) comment that (his party) would not restrict press freedom in Burma except in the case of a national emergency impressed many political observers inside the country.”

Such a nod towards press freedom had even prompted some local analysts to suggest that the NUP “might be willing to form some sort of an alliance with smaller pro-democracy and ethnic parties,” ‘The Irrawaddy’ added.

This marks a major shift in respectability from the early years of the NUP. At the last general election in 1990, Ne Win’s loyalists, drawn from his governing Burma Socialist Programme Party, were reduced to having only 10 seats in the over 480 seats up for grabs in the national parliament.

This stark rejection by voters of Ne Win’s oppressive rule helped steer the rise of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The NLD won 82 percent of the seats in that poll but was denied the right to govern after the military regime refused to recognise the results of that vote.

The NLD, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, currently in her 14th year under house arrest, refused to contest this year’s poll. This move, which saw the party banned subsequently, led to a faction of its members leaving to form the NDF.

Than Shwe’s plans to avoid a political tidal wave like the one that struck Ne Win’s NUP in the 1990s have been writ large ahead of the November elections. Of the 440 seats in the national legislature, 110 seats have already been reserved under the Constitution for non-elected military officers.

“The main point of the election this time is that the pro-military party just needs to win 166 elected seats,” said Win Min, a Burmese national security expert. “Of course Gen. Than Shwe may want to win more than 82 percent of the seats to beat the NLD’s 1990 election record for his legacy.”

The magic number of 166 elected seats that Than Shwe needs will, with the 110 military appointees in the parliament, secure him support in the new legislature if he wants to be chosen as the civilian president, Win Min told IPS. “There is no minimum requirement of a 50 percent voter turn out like in 1990, making it easier for the pro-military candidates to win even if many people do not vote.”

These measures, together with a slew of oppressive measures on the smaller pro-democratic parties in the race, have led analysts and even regional governments to dismiss the November poll as a sham election and a farce.

But little of that has deterred the NUP, whose members, including former military officers, want to challenge Than Shwe’s attempt to use the poll to assert that his legacy is more significant than Ne Win’s, says an analyst from Mandalay. “November’s election is becoming a battle between a dead general and a living one,” he pointed out.

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Win Tin slates UN head’s rights report omissions
Friday, 29 October 2010 18:13
Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – NLD co-founder and former political prisoner Win Tin expressed extreme disappointment that UN chief’s report to the UN General Assembly on Burma’s human rights situation failed to seriously address violations against ethnic minorities, he told Mizzima recently.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report was presented to the general assembly last month but was only made public a month later. It was supposed to cover the situation of human rights in Burma for the period from August last year to August this year but it failed to detail any of the Burmese regime’s military offensives in ethnic minority areas during that time. In particular, there was no mention of the infamous attack last year in August and September on the Kokang region of Shan State that forced 37,000 refugees to flee to China.

Win Tin told Mizzima it was disturbing that Ban had neglected to cover abuses against ethnic people because “in Burma many of the worst and most frequent human rights violations committed by the army are against ethnic people”.

He said Ban’s failure to mention the junta’s attack on the Kokang region and the military offensives in ethnic Karen areas of eastern Burma was evidence that the secretary general and his staff were not interested in seriously addressing the issue of human rights abuses against ethnic people.  Win Tin added that the attacks on ethnic people over the past year showed that Ban was wrong to make in his report the optimistic observation that “the past 15 years have seen a significant reduction in the overall level of conflict in Myanmar [Burma]”.

He was appalled that Ban’s report completely ignored the conclusion reached by UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana in his March report that the human rights abuses in Burma were serious enough to warrant a commission of inquiry. Likewise, Ban’s report had omitted any mention of Quinana’s assessment that in Burma the “possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the Statute of the International Criminal Court [known as the Rome Statute]”.

Because of a lack of his leadership and his unwillingness to take a stronger stand, the secretary general had “become a bit of joke in Burma”, Win Tin said. Referring to Ban’s repeated statements of “concern” regarding the situation in Burma, Win Tin asked “if he forgets to include in his report the army’s attacks on Burma’s ethnic nationalities and peasants in rural areas, is Ban Ki Moon really concerned?”

The UN secretary general is presently in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, attending the Asean summit. Coming soon is a related story: “Burma issue poses problems for Asean Summit”

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Protesters target Air Bagan for boycott over junta links
Friday, 29 October 2010 16:46
Thea Forbes

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A group of westerners launched a boycott against Air Bagan in northern Thailand yesterday over its tycoon owner’s close connections to the ruling Burmese military junta.

Nine protesters gathered outside of the office of the largest private airline in Burma in Chiang Mai, Thailand to register their opposition to junta cronies, such as the carrier’s owner, billionaire Tay Za.

“Our boycott against Air Bagan is about informing travellers to Burma to look for alternatives to travelling on Air Bagan, and not allowing them to expand unchecked in Thailand,” demonstration spokesman Garret Kostin told Mizzima.

Protesters arrived at the airline’s office at noon on Thursday armed with placards, leaflets and whistles. Employees of Air Bagan quickly shut the office after the protest commenced.

The demonstators then walked around Loi Kroh Road and Thapae Gate (the ancient entrance to the old city), and other tourist areas of Chiang Mai, delivering leaflets and information in Thai and English to pedestrians, travel agencies and tour operators.

Tay Za is a close business associate of the military regime and a confidant of junta chief Than Shwe.

The Air Bagan office opened in Chiang Mai in July and has been running flights twice a week between Chiang Mai and Rangoon.

The carrier has had failed attempts to secure international routes to Bangkok and Singapore, leaving it Chiang Mai as an important international destination.

Kyi Kyi Aye, a director at the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism in Burma told the Chiang Mai Mail in July that: “The office marks a new stage in Myanmar-Thailand tourism co-operation.”

Tay Za has formed another proxy airline named Asia Wing, according to report in The Irrawaddy magazine this month. It will apparently be managed through a prominent travel company in Burma to escape the problems Air Bagan has faced, which included heavy losses from targeted financial sanctions from the United States and European Union countries and problems gaining insurance.

In 2008, British bank and insurer Lloyds TSB rejected the airline’s insurance policy renewal and by the end of the year, the airline was supposedly operating without sufficient cover. It is now believed to be covered by a Russian insurer.

Air Bagan’s office in Rangoon was unavailable for comment.

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DVB News – PM’s party claims 18m members
By AHUNT PHONE MYAT
Published: 29 October 2010

The pro-junta juggernaut Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has 18 million members and will automatically win more than 50 seats in parliament, its general secretary has said.

The USDP is by a stretch the strongest party competing in Burma’s 7 November polls, and will field 1112 candidates across the 1158 constituencies demarcated for the vote. In 52 of these, it faces no competition.

Led by current Prime Minister Thein Sein and bolstered by the inclusion of nearly 30 retired junta officials, it is expected to sweep the board. Reports claim it has been enticing voters with low-interest loans and receives the hushed endorsement of the military’s top brass.

It has also inherited the huge wealth and the majority of the 26 million-strong membership of the junta’s so-called “civic organisation”, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was disbanded in July.

Htay Oo, general secretary of the party and the current government’s agriculture minister, told a press conference on Wednesday that the USDP “got to purge from it [USDA] all civil servants and students…” while the remaining joined the new party.

He denied accusations that the USDP had received funding from the government, and instead said that the gleaming six-storey Rangoon building that has become its headquarters was also inherited from the USDA and built with USDA funds.

But critics claim that the junta provided the bulk of the USDA’s funding; allegations that are reinforced by the fact that senior junta officials played key roles in the USDA, while Senior General Than Shwe founded and became the organisation’s leading patron.

Htay Oo added that the party had already appointed a person to be the president if it wins the polls next week, Burma’s first in 20 years. He is standing as a candidate for the Nationalities Parliament in the Hinthada constituency in Burma’s southern Irrawaddy division.

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The Irrawaddy  – A Generation Later, Suu Kyi’s Popularity Continues to Grow
Friday, October 29, 2010

When Aung San Suu Kyi recently expressed interest in setting up a Twitter account so she could communicate directly with the outside world, some young Burmese were impressed that the 65-year-old woman known to many simply as “Aunty Suu” even knew about the latest trend in Internet-based social networking.

Others, however, were mildly disappointed. In comments on their Facebook accounts and on exiled news webs

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Editor - The Myanmar Gazette || First Amendment – Religion and Expression - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.